Use the power of innovation to reduce food waste

The idea of turning leftovers into clothing is a sound one, but Hong Kong needs to do a lot more to mitigate for its throwaway culture

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 May, 2016, 11:41pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 May, 2016, 11:41pm

Fashion and food may not appear at first to be related. But increasingly, they are examples of wastefulness in affluent societies. Hong Kong is a case in point. People discard off-season clothing in much the same way as they throw out leftovers in the fridge. However, believe it or not, efforts are now being made to turn food waste into clothing. What you discard from the kitchen may soon become what you wear.

Strange as it sounds, the idea is being pursued by local researchers. It involves putting starchy food waste high in sugar content through a lactic acid fermentation process, whereby the end product can be spun into fibres. Although the material is not strong enough for use as textile yet, it is seen by some as the answer to the city’s mounting waste problem. All it will take is further study to improve the quality of the fibre, according to the Research Institute For Textiles Apparel.

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Indeed, the city is lagging behind in tackling food waste through innovation. For instance, researchers in Italy have already turned orange peels into textile fibres for garments. Elsewhere, “leather” products made of pineapple leaves have become trendy in recent years. There are also fabrics made of fermented milk and wine. Buttons and other wearables made of food waste are also becoming fashionable.

That one’s waste can become the fashion statement of others may still sound incredible to many people. But in the world of innovation, nothing is too daring. The greatest inventions of mankind began with the quest for the unconventional. With innovation and technology being encouraged by the government as the new engine of economic growth, there is a lot more Hong Kong can achieve.

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The sad truth is that it will take many more years before such clothing makes it to everyone’s wardrobe. With a third of the 9,000 tonnes of daily municipal solid waste coming from our food markets, kitchens and restaurants, it is unrealistic to expect that the problem can be entirely resolved in such a way. What we need is a more effective waste-reduction strategy.